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Metro Manila, a metaphor for government’s lack of vision and corruption

When one is surrounded by disorder, clutter and chaos, one becomes desensitized by it. Such is the situation of Metro Manila residents. Like frogs sitting in a pot of slowly boiling water, residents of Metro Manila have been made to live with squalor, congestion, and the indignity of being a pedestrian, as if it were “normal.”

Those fortunate enough to travel know how far Metro Manila has fallen behind in terms of living conditions.

Save for pockets managed by the private sector like BGC, Makati, Ortigas, and Alabang, the rest of the city is plagued with squalor, grime and decay under the hands of local government units (LGUs). Metro Manila is badly managed — this is the uncomfortable truth that the authorities must accept.

Our capital city is not a reflection of our values, aspirations, and achievements as a nation. Rather, it is a morbid metaphor of how our leaders have failed to provide a decent quality of life for our people. It mirrors the government’s incompetence, corruption, lack of vision, and penchant for making exceptions to the law whether for expediency or personal interest.

The world agrees. named Manila as the worst Asian city to visit. Waze named it the worst city for motorists, and the Asian Correspondent named it the least sustainable city in Asia.

Generally speaking, the commitment of the LGUs to the welfare, livability, and aesthetics of our cities goes only as far as their financial and/or political interest. If this were not true, why would they allow multiple exceptions in zoning and building height restrictions? Why would they allow the loading and unloading bays of malls and high rise towers to encroach on the roads? Why would they allow the proliferation of billboards even if they are in blatant defiance of the national building code? Why would they clutter the city with unsightly lamp-post banners and road island marquees? Why would they allow vendors to encroach on sidewalks and thoroughfares? Why would they allow colonies of illegal settlers to use sidewalks and roads as extensions of their living rooms? Why would they allow their cities to be inundated with their faces, names and initials?

What stings acerbically is that the national government is desensitized to the state of our capital city too.

Its standards are so low that it doesn’t even bother to rally the Mayors, let alone compete with the likes of Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok. It is satisfied to be the ugly neighbor who can’t even provide the most basic of public services.

Compared to our peers in the region, Metro Manila is inferior in infrastructure, in quality of life and sustainability. This is a result of years of poor governance and years of compromising the common good for personal interests.

It was not always like this. There was a point in history when Metro Manila was the most beautiful, greenest, and cleanest capital city in Asia. What happened?

The ill-conceived enactment of the Local Government Code of 1991, authored by former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, sealed Metro Manila’s fate. It will be recalled that the law called for the dissolution of the Metro Manila Commission (later on changed to the Metro Manila Authority), the super body that was responsible for long term city planning and management. In its place, powers were devolved to the local governments of Metro Manila’s 16 cities and one municipality, all of whom adopted their own laws, ordinances, and development plans.

The local government code created political dynasties that treated their cities like mini-fiefdoms. Mayors looked inward, concerned only with the development of their respective domains. This explains why Metro Manila’s growth has been disorganized, disjointed, and bereft of a long term vision.

The Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) was created but only as a coordinating body. Its role is limited to aligning plans and ordinances among LGUs, not to enforce them. It is in charge of city services like trash collection and flood control which it does with moderate success. It also embarked on a token greening of EDSA.

As far as the national government is concerned, it has a say only on certain aspects of the metro’s functionalities. Among them are the management of bus franchises, railway systems, national roads, solid waste disposal, etc.

This flawed governmental structure makes it conducive (and convenient) for the national government and LGUs to engage in a frenzy of finger pointing when things go awry. Manila is consigned to urban blight while no one takes responsibility. The cancerous local government code is a Pimentel legacy.

We have come to expect nothing from this government as far as urban renewal is concerned. But as a tax paying citizen, I still want to see my taxes work towards the improvements of the city I live in. If a comprehensive urban renewal is too much to ask, then at least fix EDSA.

One cannot help but traverse EDSA when navigating Metro Manila. It is the highway most utilized and one that provides the most lasting impression of the city. Make EDSA beautiful and it will go a long way towards improving the city’s image. Like it or not, EDSA is the face of the city.

Let us not even talk about solving traffic on EDSA. All we ask is the barest minimum. First, get rid of the thousands of illegal billboards that degrade the city’s aesthetics and contribute to blight and clutter. Without ugly billboards, EDSA will be open to unobstructed vistas of the city’s greenery, the river, the sky, and our impressive skyscrapers. Second, intensify the greening of the highway with more trees and foliage. Third, install more public art and public monuments to infuse a sense of identity to an otherwise nondescript highway.

This piece will likely fall on deaf ears since it speaks of the uncomfortable truth. But let it not be said that we did not air our grievance.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist

Twitter @aj_masigan

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